"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Saturday, July 18, 2015

dualing toilets

I've been thinking about converting our toilets to dual-flush ever since I read this post on Young House Love. Also, my office building has dual-flush toilets, and I think it's a great idea. The Petersiks made the conversion sound so easy, I finally got around to giving it a try. I bought the conversion kit they recommended from Amazon, and soon it arrived on my front step. 

It turned out to be perfect timing, too, because we had just gotten our water bill, so now we'll have almost a complete cycle to compare when we get our next bill. We have four toilets in our house, but I decided to just do the one in our master bathroom, which is the one we use the most, and see how it goes. If it really does seem to save a significant amount of water, I'll move forward with more toilets.

I will go ahead and say now, I had a bit of an issue, but it was entirely my fault and lack of toilet knowledge. One of the reviews I read on Amazon was a guy saying that he had not realized that the conversion kit worked only if you didn't have a ballcock fill valve, and that if, like him, you did, then you'd have to replace that too. I didn't know what that meant, but it kind of sounded like older technology, and since our house is only about five years old, I assumed we didn't have that. Turns out, we do! I will get more into that later.

Back to when I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that I had the wrong kind of fill valve for the conversion kit. 

I opened up the conversion kit and read all the directions to get an idea of what I might be getting myself into. They say that turning the water off is optional, but I find sticking my hand in cold toilet tank water to be pretty gross, so for me, it was not optional. At one point, Zach came in to check out what was going on, and we had this little conversation:
Zach: How come there's no water in the tank?
Me: Because I turned the water off.
Zach: You can do that?
Me: Yeah, there's this little knob down here on the floor behind the toilet. Sometimes I know things.

Once I got the water turned off and flushed the toilet a couple of times to empty out as much water from the tank as possible, I got to work following the conversion kit instructions. Just like John Petersik, I needed a wrench to get the handle off. I also needed pliers to take out this huge ball float thing, which John did NOT mention. This was my first inkling that perhaps I had a ballcock fill valve and this wasn't going to work. However, I decided to ignore that little nagging feeling and keep going with the installation. 

Side note about the handle... The conversion kit came in two different handle types, button and lever. The Petersiks had gotten the button kind. I chose the lever kind, so it would look more like our other toilets. The handle has an inside lever for the small flush and an outside lever for the regular flush. When you flush the inside lever, it kind of feels like both levers are going down, and you think, 'this seems like it's still going to do the big flush,' but it doesn't.

I finished up the installation, turned the water back on, and the toilet tank started filling. And it kept filling. And it started going down the overflow tube. And it kept going. Until I turned the water back off. It was at this point that I did a Google image search for ballcock fill valve and found a picture that looked suspiciously like the pieces that were part of my toilet. I turned back to the front page of the conversion kit instructions where I had previously seen this note:
"If you have a ballcock style fill valve, you may need to purchase a HydroClean or HydroWorks fill valve."

It was a little after 2pm, and we had somewhere we needed to be at 4pm. I didn't want to leave our primary toilet in a non-usable state, and I also didn't really want to undo all the work I had just done. So I went to homedepot.com and looked up the HydroClean Fill Valve to verify that they carried it and that it was in stock at my local store. Then I drove over, grabbed my new fill valve, and rushed home with about 45 minutes before we had to leave.

I opened up the instructions for the fill valve, and the first step was less than informative: "Shut water off, flush toilet to empty tank, and remove old toilet fill valve." Not very helpful if you don't know how to remove the old fill valve.

So, I went to Google, which brought me to this YouTube demonstration. I smushed a bucket into the area under the toilet tank and unscrewed the flexible pipe. Then I could just pull the fill valve out and watch the remaining water drain out of the toilet tank into my bucket.

The rest of the fill valve installation just followed the instructions and was pretty straightforward. After installing the fill valve and reconnecting the pipe to the toilet tank, the inside of my toilet now looked like this:

I turned the water back on, and the tank didn't just keep filling forever! Yay! I had to do a bit of adjusting on the fill valve to get it to stop filling at the appropriate place. Then I tried pressing the small flush handle. And the toilet bowl didn't empty. I knew from Young House Love that there was some adjusting to be done to get the dual flushes to work properly. I didn't have time for that right then, but at least we could use the regular flush and still use our toilet!

I came back to the project the next weekend. The fill valve has a lever to adjust the amount of water in the bowl, so you could use it on its own to save water by lowering the water level there. However, I ended up keeping the water level in the bowl about the same, maybe even slightly higher, to get the small flush to work. The dual flush converter has its own adjustments for the amount of water used during the small flush. There was quite a bit of trial and error with that. I felt like all the benefit we might get from saving water with the dual flush was getting overridden by all the flushing I was doing to test each slight adjustment! Finally, though, I got things to a state where the dual flush capabilities work. You do have to hold the small flush handle down a bit longer than with normal handle or even the regular flush part of the dual handle, but you get used to it. With the tank lid off, I could definitely see a significant difference in the amount of water that went out of the tank with the small flush compared to the regular flush. 

Now I just wait three months for our next water bill to see how much this saves us. However, even if it's a good amount of savings, I may not convert all of our other toilets. Since they'll all need a new fill valve, I may just change that out and use the adjustment feature to lower the water level in the bowl and see if that's a comparable savings on its own.

blacking out the bedroom

In my continuing efforts to sleep better (someday I'll write about post or two or three about this great saga), I decided our bedroom needed to be darker. I generally had thought of it as pretty dark, but one morning, as I again woke up long before the alarm, I realized that there really was a significant amount of light seeping in through the Roman shades. As a test, I took some leftover blackout lining from the basement curtains I had made and pinned it over the existing shades. I was amazed at how much darker the room got, which sold me on the idea that adding blackout lining to our shades was definitely something I should do.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough leftover fabric from the basement curtains to cover all, or even most, of the bedroom shades. Luckily, I have this blog, where I document my projects, so I just looked at my previous post to find what blackout lining I had used. JoannFabric.com claimed they had it in stock, but when I went there, it didn't look exactly the same (I took a piece of my existing fabric with me), but it was close enough. The width of the fabric, 54", was going to be just about right for the height of the shades. I estimated the shade width at 3' for the narrow windows (measured at about 31", but I like to over-estimate a bit for buying fabric) and about twice that for the wide window. I figured I had enough leftover fabric for one of the narrow windows, so I got 3 yds (9') of new blackout lining.

Then I had to figure out how to attach it to my existing Roman shades. At first, I thought I would sew the lining on, but the shades were too thick to fit in my sewing machine, and I certainly wasn't going to hand sew all of that. Also, Roman shades are kind of tricky because there are all these different sections with cords running through them. I decided to try two different methods to see which would hold better. In the end, I used a combination of the two methods. 

The first was glue, specifically FabricFuse Quick Bond Fabric Adhesive. The second was Heat n Bond Ultrahold, which is an iron-on, and sort of looks like double-sided tape. I got it in the 5/8" width. I tried each of these adhesives on some scraps of the blackout lining. Initially, it seemed like neither was going to hold. I waited and waited for the glue to dry, and the fabric pieces kept peeling apart. The same thing happened with the iron-on adhesive. I was growing extremely frustrated and decided to give up for the day. The next day, when I took another look at my test pieces, both the glue and iron-on were holding fast. Apparently, they just needed a really long time to cure. With that decided, I got started on the first shade. 

I was afraid that if I disassembled the cords along the back, I wouldn't be able to get them just right again. So instead of covering the back of the shade with one big piece of blackout lining, I decided to do a small piece for each of the 8 sections between where the cords attach in. Each of these pieces was about 31" wide and 8" tall. I cut out all my pieces for the first shade and started gluing. It took a really long time and a lot of glue. I let it dry on the floor for a few hours before hanging the shade back up. 

For the second narrow shade, I mostly used the iron-on Heat n Bond. I thought maybe this would be less time-consuming than the glue, but no. I think it actually took more time, though they were probably close. Ironing on the sides was pretty easy, but trying to do the tops and bottoms, where the fabric gets wrapped around some sort of stiff stabilizer that keeps the shade looking nice when you pull it up, was tricky. I ended up doing some gluing in some areas to be sure of a good hold. Plus, it used a lot of the Heat n Bond. 

So for the final window, I used a combination of the two methods. Spoiler alert, this way also took a really long time. It turned out, there was no way around that. I used the Heat n Bond to attach the sides of each panel, then glued along the top and bottom. Since this shade was twice as wide as the others, I also put a couple of strips of Heat n Bond in the middle of the shade too, for a little extra support. Below are pictures of the fabric after ironing on the sides, but before, and then after, gluing the tops and bottoms. You can see how floppy it is before the gluing, but then the fabric gets all nice and tucked in after.

Each shade took a few hours, and I found the whole process annoying and not fun. However, it was very easy, so if you have existing Roman shades, this is a totally doable DIY. But if we hadn't already had these nice shades that I really like and were pretty expensive, I would totally have sprung for shades that already came with blackout lining. 

Here are the before and after. 

Obviously, a lot less light is getting through the shades now. Unfortunately, there's still some light sneaking around the sides of the shades. I'm debating doing a valence with side curtains to cover that up. Or maybe I'll just try a sleep mask.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

classing up the dining room

The same weekend I painted the planter I started another, longer project -- installing chair rail in the dining room. This is something that's been on the to do list in my mind for quite awhile, and I finally got around to doing it. I picked this one from Home Depot, ordered it online, and a week or so later, it arrived on my doorstep. After choosing a chair rail, the next most difficult decision was what height to hang it. There are, apparently, a number of philosophies on the correct height for a chair rail. Some say a third of the way up the wall, which with our 9' ceilings would be 3', or 36". Others say that's too high, that it should be put only a quarter of the way up the wall, which for us would be 27". Others say 30". When the chair rail arrived, Zach and I pulled it out of the box and held a piece up to the wall. 30" seemed too low, while 36" seemed too high. To us, 32" seemed the Goldilocks height and, since it's our house, we're the only ones whose opinions matter. The yellow mark in the photo below is at 32".

Here are some "before" pictures:

Saturday, I got all the pieces, except for the ones around the bay window, measured, cut, and nailed in. First, I measured up in one spot on the wall to 32". At that point, I held a laser level up to the wall, nudging it around until it was level and at the right point, then pushed the little button that pushed out a sort of thumbtack that stuck the level into the wall. Then I marked the laser line. I used a combination of stud finder and just looking for popped out nails to locate and mark the wall studs. Then I measured and cut the pieces, often going back to nip off just a hair more because it's always better to start out a little too long than a little too short. Finally, I positioned the pieces, got them all level with a small regular level balancing on top, and nailed them in with a 16 gauge finish nailer. Since our dining room is really made up of several small walls with a lot of doors and windows breaking it up, I did this all in cycles, marking one wall, measuring and cutting, then moving on to the next wall. I laid all the pieces out on the floor, then went back around and nailed them all in. 

For the cutting, I borrowed my friend's miter saw, which I set up on the deck. From putting hardwoods on the stairs (which you can read about here and here), I knew what a pain (both figuratively and literally, in my knees) it was to have the saw in the garage on the ground floor and have to keep going up and down and up and down and up to cut pieces and put them in. Having the saw on the deck on the same level was MUCH better. The cutting wasn't too hard, just had to keep track of which direction the 45 deg cuts had to go for inside and outside corners.

Except for the bay window. It doesn't have 90 deg angles, so I had to do a lot more thinking, plus some math. First, I measured the angles with a protractor. Three of the four measured at 135 deg, while the fourth measured at 130 deg. To figure out the miter saw cut, here is the math I did:
Divide the measured angle by 2. (135 / 2 = 67.5)
Subtract that number from 90. (90 - 67.5 = 22.5)
The result is the miter cut.

I had some scrap wood of similar thickness to the chair rail, so I used that to do test cuts of all the bay window angles to make sure I'd done the math right. I had :-) All the test cuts fit perfectly the first try! I was pretty impressed with myself. I love math.

My air compressor had a slight leak in the connector between the hose and nail gun, so a number of the nails didn't get quite all the way in. My dad had previously introduced me to the nail set (and bought me one, thanks, Dad!). This is a tool for hammering in those not-quite-in finish nails. Zach and our wonderful friend did all of the nail setting for me and then went around and filled all the nail holes with spackle. Here is where my friend and I have a difference of philosophy. He believes in smearing on a bunch of spackle and not worrying about it being neat because it's just going to get sanded off. I believe in being more careful and trying to just fill the hole, so not as much time and effort needs to go into the sanding. Either way works, it just depends where you'd rather spend your time.

So next I had to sand all that excess spackle off. I used fine sand paper, 200 grit. Even so, I still ended up sanding off the primer in a number of spots. Next was caulking. I used DAP Fast Dry Acrylic Latex Plus Silicone caulk in white. Caulk fills in any gapping between the molding and the wall and helps give everything a more finished look. I caulked along the top edge of all the chair rail. I also caulked the edges where the chair rail meets the doorway molding and inside corners. I tried to caulk outside corners, but I couldn't seem to get the caulk to really smush in the gap. I ended up going back to the spackle, which worked a lot better. I chose not to caulk along the bottom of the rail because I figured no one really sees that anyway.

Here are some pictures to show the miracle that is caulk. On the left is the chair rail meeting up with the doorway molding after first being installed. See the little gap between the two moldings? On the right is that same spot after getting a bead of caulk in there. See how much more cohesive and beautiful it looks? 

And here is one of those outside corners before spackle, after spackle, and after sanding and painting. You can barely even tell there used to be a gap in there!

After caulking, it was finally time to paint. I used green Frog Tape along the underside to protect the wall. I didn't bother on the top side because I was planning to touch that up to cover the caulk anyway. The paint I used was the molding touch-up paint left behind by our builders, so I don't know its official name, but it's labeled as a white semi-gloss. I managed to get by with just one coat. I made up for that good fortune on the next step, touching up the red paint.

I put the Frog Tape on the top of the chair rail to protect it's shiny new whiteness. I didn't get a before picture, but some of the pictures above show the line of caulk above the chair rail. It looked kind of messy, and it's paintable, so I wanted to paint it red to clean it up. I still have some leftover paint from the dining room, which is Behr premium plus satin enamel. I don't know the color name. The can has been sitting in our garage for about 4 years, so I stirred it up really well, then it was ready to go. I don't remember how many coats it took for the dining room, other than "a lot", but it took 3 coats to do the touch-up.

Here are the "after" pictures. 

I LOVE how it looks! It does kind of make me think maybe it also needs crown molding now, but I'll let that thought percolate around in my brain for awhile. I'm afraid that if I put crown in one room, I'll need to put in in everywhere, which I don't want to do. So we'll see. For now, I'll just smile at the chair rail every time I go into the dining room :-)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

here is a pot for your herbs

I kind of took the winter off from projects. Not intentionally, it just sort of happened. But now I'm back with a vengeance. I've recently been working on three projects, with a couple more in the planning.

I'm going to start with the simplest project. I'd been thinking about growing some herbs for awhile. Some recipes I use call for fresh parsley or basil or something, but the amount I would use is less than how much you have to buy in the store, and I don't always have a use for the rest of it. Yes, I could do better recipe planning for the week to do all recipes that need fresh basil, but realistically, I'm just not going to go to that much effort. So I thought it would be great to grow a few of my own herbs, and then I could just grab a couple of leaves as needed. 

I had an old window box planter that I thought would be perfect to put a couple of herb plants in, but it was a faded sort of grey-green that would not look good in the dining room, so I decided to give spray painting it a try. I got Rustoleum spray paints in white and a sort of yellow-orange that ended up being a bit more yellow than intended. I wanted to do the bottom tray part in white and the rest yellow.

I started out by turning the planter upside down and spray painting the bottom white. Initially, I thought it would be easiest to take off the bottom tray and paint the pieces separately. However, being an older planter, the bottom was firmly connected, and the plastic started cracking when I tried to pull the pieces apart. So I just sprayed the bottom and didn't worry about over-spray since I'd be painting the top anyway. After a few coats of white and letting that dry fully, I taped Frog tape around the white bottom, turned the planter right-side up, and spray painted the rest yellow. I tried to get a good amount of the inside painted too, since the dirt wouldn't be coming all the way to the top.

And that was that. Like I said before, the color wasn't quite what I was going for. I was trying to match the more mustard yellow I had used for these side tables in the dining room and the plant table in the living room. This turned out a brighter yellow, but I think it will be fine.

Next up, painting a yard sale side table for this planter to live on! But that's a post, and a project, for another day...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

decluttering a cabinet

This post has been mostly done for a few months. I guess I started it and then forgot about it. I also kind of failed at taking pictures before or during, so all you get is the after shot. Sorry.

The cupboard above the ovens is a hazard. Whenever I want something out of there, I have to either take a bunch of other things out as well or risk having cookie sheets and roasting pans come crashing down on me. It's a large, deep, wonderful cupboard, but it only has one shelf. Since most of the things we put in there are relatively flat, it means we get large piles of pots and pans, making it difficult to get to the thing you want.

For probably at least a couple of years, every now and then I'd say to Zach, "we should get some sort of extra shelf to put in the middle of this cupboard." Zach would agree, and then we'd both forget about it for awhile. Then, when we got our bathroom cabinet installed, it came with extra pegs for holding the shelves. Since this is the same type of cabinet as in our kitchen, the pegs were the right fit there. It still took several months, but I finally got around to building an extra shelf for the over-the-oven cabinet.

First, I took everything out of the cabinet and measured. It was a little tricky because there's some sort of box (probably electrical stuff) in the back of the cabinet that I'd have to make a cut-out for. Then I went to the garage to see if I had any extra boards that were big enough to use. I did have a piece of MDF that was big enough, but MDF is super heavy. Not only did I not want to lift that heavy piece up awkwardly high over my head to install as a shelf, I wasn't confident in the little pegs' ability to support that much weight. So I went to Home Depot in search of a light-weight board. 

I was planning to get plywood, but first I checked out the hobby wood section, just in case, and found exactly what I needed -- 3/4" pine, 2' x 4'. I took it home and cut it to size. Before finishing it, I did a test fit to make sure I had measured right, and it fit perfectly! I had also gotten a light stain with the idea of attempting to match the inside of the cabinet. Well, I put the stain on the wood with a rag, and it totally did not match at all. However, it won't be very visible, so I'm not too concerned. Since the stain was already quite a bit darker than the interior of the cabinet, I only did one coat of stain. Then I did lots of coats of spray polyurethane.

And now, every time I open that previously horrible cabinet, I smile :-)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

cord clean-up

Confession: I'm messy. Many of my friends will scoff at this admission because in some parts of my life, I'm exceptionally organized. However, I tend to not put things away. I'm especially bad in the living area, where I use my laptop, tablet, phone, books, etc and then leave them strewn about the coffee table. One of the things that bothers me about this situation is that, having all these electronics, I need power cables for all of them, and these cables feel more messy to me than all the books and magazines and papers piled up. All these cables are also annoying when it comes to traveling. They get all tangled up, even trying to put them all in separate bag pockets. So I finally made a little holder for some of my cables, to keep them tidy. I found the idea and design pattern at www.brit.co/cord-roll/.

I started off at Joann Fabric and picked out some faux leather (aka vinyl, but "faux leather" sounds way fancier). I liked this blue one.

I cut the fabric according to the design instructions, using my carpenter's square to help draw the angles for the end.

Then I cut the slits to tuck the cords in. The directions didn't really specify the size of these slits. I made mine 0.5" tall and various widths. The first one, shown directly below, I made 1.5" wide for my camera cord. I actually started it narrower, tested it with the cord, and decided it needed to be a bit wider. That's really how I did all the slits -- estimated a starting point, checked it with the cord I planned to put there, then widened as needed. The other slits all ended up being 2", and there's 0.5" between them all.

Next I put the snaps on. They were super easy. I did the end one first, then put all the cords in and rolled the holder up to see where the other half of the snap needed to go. Conveniently, it went right in between the two middle slots.

Here's the holder with all the cords in it. From left to right, they're for my Kindle, phone, iPad, and camera. The phone and iPad also have big adapters to go from the USB connector to an outlet plug. Those were too big to fit in this holder, so I might end up making another one that's bigger and can hold those too. However, the adapters are also simple to detach and don't have pieces to get tangled up with things, so just having them loose in a bag isn't that big of a deal either.

And here it is all rolled up. I used it when we went out of town for Christmas, and it was awesome. Not having the frustration of tangled cords made me very happy :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

a supergirl blanket for a supergirl baby

Wow, I hadn't posted anything in quite awhile, and now three posts in a row! I have been busy lately 
:-) But this post will be short, since I've already posted about similar projects here and here

Our very dear friends welcomed a new baby girl a few weeks ago. This would normally be a very happy thing, which it was, but she came about 3.5 months early, so along with the joy came much anxiety for both her short- and long-term health. She's had a few surgeries already, but seems mostly in reasonable health for a baby born so small. We've been helping them out as much as possible, and they're having family come and visit.

Usually, I've made blankets for my friends' babies to go with their shower theme, but since this baby came before we'd had a chance to plan a shower for her, that didn't work out. However, I really wanted to make her something now that she's arrived. 

At first, I thought of making a tiny blanket, since she's so tiny, out of leftover bits from other blankets I'd made. However, I didn't have tons of leftovers, even for a tiny blanket, plus nothing was really grabbing my love. Then the idea of Supergirl popped into my head. This seemed especially perfect for this tiny little fighter. I immediately went on an Internet quest for Supergirl flannel or fleece. This turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find; in fact, I only was able to really find one place that had it -- Hancock Fabrics. I ordered 1 yard, and then waited anxiously for it to arrive.

The other blankets I made had a micro-fleece back and edges with flannel in the middle of the front. Since the Supergirl fabric was fleece, my initial plan was to use that as the back and edges and get a plain either dark pink or purple flannel for the middle front. In fact, I even purchased purple flannel and JoAnn when I was there getting fabric for Zach's birthday present. However, once the Supergirl fleece arrived and I laid the two fabrics out together, it just wasn't doing it for me. I thought about putting a smaller square of the fleece in the center of the front, surrounded by the purple flannel, but that didn't seem right either. So I changed my plan to instead put the Supergirl fleece in the front and get a micro-fleece for the back, like I had done with the other blankets. I excitedly took a small piece of the fleece and went to Hobby Lobby to check out their selection. I was kind of planning to get purple to tone down the pink-ness, but I didn't really like the look of that. Instead, I chose a light pink rose-patterned micro-fleece. The rose pattern is subtle and mostly just gives it a fluffier look. The fabric was super sheddy, but once I washed it, it was fine.

I cut the micro-fleece to 4'x4' and the fleece to 3'x3'. The freshly cut raw edges of the micro-fleece started shedding again, so I washed it again. Then I followed the same instructions as my first blanket post, and voila!

I hope my friends like it and don't think it's to pink! It will be awhile before the little baby can have the blanket in bed with her, but until then, it can sit in her NICU room and inspire her to grow big and strong and bring optimism to her parents.